My first month as Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is drawing to a close and my mind is swimming with hope and possibility. I can already say that I am profoundly moved by the compassionate, very personal work of the CRC staff to ease the minds, relieve the suffering, and make the journey easier for the cancer patients and families we work with every day.
I am thrilled to step into this new position, following in the footsteps of its founder, Sara O’Donnell. It is a daunting but energizing challenge to have so much to learn, so many people to meet, so many grants to study, the budget to digest, and two offices to supervise, separated by mountains, valleys and redwoods. I have lived in Mendocino County for 28 years, but just last week drove through Comptche for the first time. Another whimsical first was watching a wild boar cross the Boonville Road about 40 feet in front of my car, on its way somewhere. On my days in Mendocino, I try to take a few minutes to look for whales. I hear they are there now, so it is only a matter of time.
I want to tell you a little about myself. I am a native Californian. I grew up in Sonoma County and graduated from Mills College. I married my high school sweetheart, Gordon, and we moved to Mendocino County in 1989 for better job and housing prospects and we never left.
The biggest project of my life, aside from raising my two sons, was starting up a new nonprofit in Willits, the Kids Club. From that experience, I learned the joys and challenges of starting a nonprofit from scratch to meet a pressing community need. As Dr. Jeff Belkora said in his introduction of Sara O’Donnell at the annual “Heroes in Healthcare” dinner, “things are possible in Mendocino County that are not possible in other places.” I have experienced that many, many times. I know that the strong bonds between people, the “do-it-yourself” spirit, the legacy of the back-to-the-land movement, and the physical and spiritual proximity to nature—all these things are interwoven in the culture of this beautiful place.
When I interviewed for this position, one of the questions I was asked was how cancer had affected my own life. Like many other native Californians who grew up playing outside before the benefits of sunscreen were so well understood, I have dealt with sun-exposure-related skin cancer. But of much greater impact to me was losing my grandmother to pancreatic cancer. Cancer touches all our lives, if not directly, then through family and friends. About five hundred people in our county will receive a cancer diagnosis this year, and the CRC will serve the majority of those people in some way.
The CRC vision that “no one in Mendocino County will face cancer alone,” will be on my mind every day as I go about this important work. I am honored to lead the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County and look forward to meeting the people who give support and purpose to that inspiring vision.